The school trips I did as a child are one of my strongest memories. The smell of the coaches, the excitement, wanting to eat my lunch as soon as we got there at 9:30, just being somewhere and learning things in a brand new environment…I remember every single one, and I wouldn’t mind betting that you remember yours well, too.
I am looking forward with excitement to a couple of school trips this month, one with each of the boys’ classes. I must have been on nearly a dozen of these outings as a parent by now, and I’m always staggered by the sheer scale of the task.The whole thing is a terrifying prospect for a civilian, but the staff in charge of our school trips manage it so smoothly, seamlessly and with supremely calm confidence. Put these amazing people in charge of military operations, and the battle would be over by school pick-up time.
From planning, to deployment, to mobilisation, to mission success, it’s as tightly managed and expertly run as any military operation.
Planning the Campaign
It’s meticulous, and starts a long way in advance. If they’ve visited the destination before, there’s a debrief from the last trip to look over. If anything could be improved on, it will be. But if it’s a new venue, it has to be thoroughly vetted. There’s a staff visit to assess it for educational value, health and safety, and security. If all is well, communication with parents can begin.
The date is set at the start of the school year, the September before. The letter requesting payment goes out weeks ahead of the trip date for the infants, and the juinor school actualy invites parents to pay for all trips at the start of the year, if that is more convenient. The reminder comes out on Parentmail the week before, and there’s a paper slip handed to the children as leave the previous day, to remind us all about arrival time, and the packed lunch they’ll need; all co-ordinated by the ladies in the school office.
No-One Gets Left Behind
Just like in the field, no-one gets left behind. Everyone can go on the trip, even if their parent can’t or won’t pay. Not everyone agrees with paying for school trips, and it’s very rare that everyone stumps up the voluntary contribution. I have heard of a parent – for whom the means to pay was not a problem – air the view that “…if the school wants to take my child on a trip, they can pay for it themselves – they make a fortune off these things.”
No school I know makes money off their trips. There’s no room for profit once you’ve forked out a king’s ransom for the coach, in any case. Many schools – ours included – even has a kind donation from our Parents’ Association fundraisers towards the cost. But everyone goes, whether or not they contribution is forthcoming. There is always money set aside in the budget to make sure no-one misses out.
Careful deployment planning is essential. There aren’t enough staff available in the field to have a comfortable adult:child ratio, and that’s where us parents come in. Once we’ve been conscripted, our troops are allocated to us in a planning project that requires in-depth knowledge of the children (and probably parents!), so that we’ve each got a flock that we can herd around with minimal risk of disruption, delay, or loss of child.
The day itself. This is where the decades of combined skill and experience really come into their own. Aside from getting 90 children to the toilet before getting on a coach (not such a problem with the older ones), and all within a 10 minute window (how do they do that?! I struggle to get one of them through the bathroom in 10 minutes), they just have SO MUCH to remember. Here’s an abridged list of things to take/remember/sort out/keep in mind:
- Named lunch bag for each child (plus spares, in case anyone didn’t bring one from home)
- Named water bottle for each child
- First aid kit to cover a vast range of eventualities
- Two sick buckets – one optimistically empty, for catching the sick, and one with sand, for cleaning it up
- Bags of spare clothes, in case of all sorts of accidents
- Mobile phone numbers for all accompanying adults
- Guideline sheets for each parent helper, outlining the programme for the day and what to do in an emergency
- Grouping lists for the children and respective adults
- One member of staff in a car, in case of emergency
And that’s just the stuff I knew about. I have no doubt that the complete list is longer than the school roll.
The result of this military precision on last year’s trip was a fantastic, engaging day out to a farm for all the children; executed completely smoothly, without a single hitch. All eventualities were catered for, but no disasters occurred. No troops were lost, injured, cried, or went hungry.
Fifty children all had a brilliant time. I’m sure the details of the day will fade for most of them as they grow, but I have no doubt that at least a few snapshots of things they saw, and how they felt on this lovely day out will reside in their memories always.
And it’s all possible because these wonderful people made it so. They don’t have to organise school trips – that parent I mentioned earlier would attest to that – but they do, because they know how much it means to the children and their development. They don’t have to spend all this time planning, risk assessing, budgeting, packing, preparing everyone – but they do. And a lot of them do some of it in their own time, because they are perfectionists. They go above and beyond the call of duty.
Thank you to school staff up and down the land, who give these special memories to our children year in and year out at School Trip Season.